Sightings is a 2017 sci-fi mystery about a dysfunctional family living on a ranch in TX threatened by a cryptid in their woods.
While there have been an astonishing number of alien movies, the alien abduction film has not been quite as active, with Steven Spielberg‘s 1977 classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind easily the most recognized. While others, most notably Robert Lieberman‘s Fire in the Sky and Jonathan Glazer‘s experimental Under the Skin, have come and gone, it’s a sub-genre not really explored that often. Now comes Dallas Morgan‘s Sightings, an Independent feature that throws a lot more into the mix, and while superficially looks like any other cheaply made exploitive sci-fi movie of the week, is absolutely anything but, well deserving a look.
Tom Mayfield (Boo Arnold) has seen enough and is a longtime skeptic on his last day in service as a small Texas town’s Sheriff. However, instead of getting the chance to settle quietly on his ranch, he finds three dead bodies in a field, women, each of them gutted and their organs removed. He lives alone with his estranged daughter Hannah (Tahlia Morgan), a struggling journalist, his wife (Tiffany Heath) having left them, though Tom’s brother-in-law Rickey (Rawn Erickson) believes there is extraterrestrial explanations for her disappearance. Meanwhile, Tom becomes a suspect, pursued by detective Brendan Pitney (Kevin Sizemore), forcing Tom to enlist Rickey’s help and that of surveillance expert Akiro Nagi (Dante Basco), along with a cryptozoologist named Rebecca Otis (Stephanie Drapeau) to explore other options, ones that include, well, Bigfoot and possibly aliens.
Right away, the thing that stands out from Morgan’s film, he also the writer, is the excellent slow build, and while that’s probably a result of the limited budget, it allows us to spend time with these characters and become surprisingly invested in their history. Hardly a visual effects laden spectacle, Sightings relies on a more grounded approach, being a character-driven story more than a flashy, monsters attack movie, even though that is ultimately what this is. Morgan builds some very effective tension in the unseen, meaning that, like any good monster movie, the more we are left to our own imagination, the more often it works to generate genuine fear.
Morgan’s script is smart, starting out like another Bigfoot in the dark story before expanding into some other truly intriguing sci-fi directions. It backtracks with great effect as it layers its complex themes into play, offering some sharp twists along the way. It’s made all the more impactful by a strong cast, with some impressive performances, most especially Arnold who is a powerful presence, stoic and quiet. Those in orbit around him are the emotional ups and downs and it works well as it slowly ramps up the tension as the group goes on the hunt for the unbelievable.
It would be easy to dismiss Sightings as another in the long unraveling spool of low-budget knock-offs crowding the VOD market, and while it certainly lacks the polish of a big budget special effects heavy blockbuster, it is a far better film than you might expect. Patient, intelligent, well-written and acted, this one should get its hooks in you early and keep you guessing all the way through. Those who flock to movies like this for lots of monsters are going to be disappointed, as it’s more interested in the people than the creatures, however, Morgan does good things with what he’s able to do and makes Sightings a gem of a sci-fi flick.
Sightings releases November 7.
Director(s): Dallas Morgan
Actor(s): Dante Basco, Kevin Sizemore, Boo Arnold
Genre: Sci-fi, Mystery